Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Minangkabau lesson

Two days ago the Malay Mail Online published an article by Tunku Abidin Muhriz titled Negri Sembilan’s democratic pledge of allegiance.

I am sure by now most of us know who this bright young Malaysian royal is as he writes so eloquently in (previously) the Malaysian Insider and (now) the Malay Mail Online.

His tale is that of Negri Sembilan, its Minangkabau people and their adat, and the state's history and uniquely democratic royal institution where a ruler would be 'elected' as (or invited to be) the leader or Yang di-Pertuan Besar (Yamtuan).

It must be from such a sui generis royal institution that Allahyarham Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al Haj, our nation's 1st PM, had adopted for the election and selection of the Federation's King, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (a title that must have been also adopted from Negri Sembilan's royal institution).

But it's NOT so much the history of Negri Sembilan but more that of its Minangkabau people and their adat that I detect an important message within Tunku Abidin's narration. Yes, he did take pride in his people's democratic institution in selecting their leader, and while the message I've detected, or claim to have detected, wakakaka, cannot be divorced from the Minangkabau's democratic tradition, it's more than that and something most germane in today's Malaysian political landscape.

In the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of his narration, Tunku Abidin Muhriz wrote:

The next two rulers, Yamtuan Hitam (1795-1808) and Yamtuan Lenggang (1808-1824) were similarly invited from Pagar Ruyong. Unfortunately, a war broke out at the time in Minangkabau homeland over religion: a new Wahhabi-inspired faction called the Padri took issue with the matrilineal, decentralised and democratic system that had developed since the formation of Pagar Ruyong in 1347, and tried to take over by force.

The Adat faction, in alliance with the Dutch, managed to defeat the Padri, but most of Pagar Ruyong royal family had been killed in 1815.

Imam Bonjol Mudo
one of the leaders in the fundamentalist Padri

I'll come to the above shortly but let's start by understanding that today the Minangkabau people is the largest ethnic group in the world with an adat (or custom/tradition) of matrilineal succession.

cannot claim to know much about the origin of this adat other than through some readings I learnt that the Minangkabau adat was laid down by two of their forefathers, Datuak* Katumanggungan and Datuak Perpatih Nan Sabatang who were half-brothers (same mum but different dads). 

* some scholars claim that today the 'Datuak' would be known as 'Tunku'

The Minangkabau kingdom had its beginning in the 14th Century when a Majapahit bloke by the name of Adityawarman became its king. Apparently he was related to King Jayanegara of Majapahit, which made him (Adityawarman) probably a Javanese and a Hindu though some historian argued he was a Buddhist. He seated his new kingdom in Pagar Ruyung on the west coats of Sumatra.


he was Majapahit ambassador to China before he became King of his Pagar Ruyung Kingdom

Do you reckon he spoke some Mandarin, wakakaka?

A major part of his Majapahit-assigned remit was to eliminate remnants of the already vanquished Srivijaya Empire, then centred at Palembang. But by then, good olde Parameswara (also a Buddhist) had wisely scooted off to Malacca.

It would appear then that in early days the Minangkabau developed their adat based on Hindu, Buddhist and animistic beliefs, and which were to be later articulated by the two Datuak siblings.

Today many western female anthropologists and/or feminists get orgasmic about the Minangkabau, a people (some 10 million strong around the world) with such a powerful tradition of matrilineal succession, and many studies have been made by them, extolling the wonders of a matrilineal system within an Islamic society.

But perhaps they might have missed the important 30-year Padri (Minangkabau) War between the Wahhabi-Islamists and the Minangkabau traditionalists.

Some mullahs having returned from their haj in Saudi Arabia had wanted to cleanse the Minangkabau Kingdom of any form of adat that was deemed to be un-Islamic such as their uniquely matrilineal system of succession, leaving us to believe that nothing pissed the findamentalist Islamists more than women having any bloody say at all, let alone property.

Thus if those fundamentalist mullah had prevailed, there won't have been any unique Minangkabau tradition.

Don't think so? Well, look at what's happening in Malaysia?

Hasn't PAS prohibited the showing of the wayang kulit and makyong in Kelantan? And even for a brief moment the Chinese koe-tai and Samson-&-Delilah salons, wakakaka? I wonder what else? What about the tarian menora? All disappearing!

And we notice that other than newsworthy people such as sweetie Marina Mahathir, sweetie Dyana Sofya, auntie Rafidah Aziz, auntie Rosmah Mansor (wakakaka), and sweetie Zainab Anwar (S-I-S), very few other prominent Malay women nowadays wear traditional Malay dresses, the graceful baju kurung or the yummy sarung kebaya.

Even Eli Wong of PKR was once seen to be wearing what Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah are wearing, and that was NOT baju kurung or sarung kebaya. However I have to say to Miss Muffet's credit, thank goodness, she had only boasted about donning the baju kurung, wakakaka.

I also wonder whether the lovely joget will one day become just a footnote in Malaysian history books? Once a (Malay) visitor to my blog told me he was stunned by a photo he saw in an old Malay language magazine (I think it was Mastika) which showed Malay schoolgirls doing their morning physical training (PT) in shorts and short-sleeve shirts. I guess he had been so used to most Malay women wearing the tudung that females in shorts and short-sleeve shirts would have been shocking.

And I wish he had heard my uncle telling me of the once highly synchronized Malay style of western dancing at public ballrooms (or dance halls) where it was still very Islamic no-touch for the dancing partners (half a metre apart) but who nonetheless performed the waltz, rumba and foxtrot gracefully as a partnered unit. 

Will the nasi lemak and tapai be under serious threat? Maybe in future we can only eat falafel and shawarma if some people have their ways, wakakaka.


once a Malay pakcik joked: “kaytee my boy, we Muslims would usually be taking a walk on the edge of sin whenever we have tapai because just that extra iota of percentage proof would tilt us over into haram land”, wakakaka

for more of tapai, see my post Abang Tapi

Anyway, back to the 19th Century Pagar Ruyung kingdom in western Sumatra where the fundamentalist mullahs started a civil war with the adat-ists by their treacherous act of regicide where they murdered most of the royalty during a ceasefire peace-talk.

T'was a murderous act as stated by our Malay Mail writer Tunku Abidin in his "most of Pagar Ruyong royal family had been killed in 1815".

Tunku Abidin has so understated his message "Unfortunately, a war broke out at the time in Minangkabau homeland over religion: a new Wahhabi-inspired faction called the Padri took issue with the matrilineal, decentralised and democratic system that had developed since the formation of Pagar Ruyong in 1347, and tried to take over by force" that it might have escaped our notice.

But let us again recall the essence of his point, namely, "... a new Wahhabi-inspired faction called the Padri took issue with the matrilineal, decentralised and democratic system that had developed since the formation of Pagar Ruyong in 1347 ...".

I read it as those mullahs having issues with women's rights, democracy and decentralized control (or greater freedom and autonomy). It's hardly surprising as the clerics (of most religions) want the opposite: women in their 'places' as mere inferiors or chattels, and of course highly centralized authoritarian control with no biadap talk back by the rakyat lay people.

Scholars have written that the Minangkabau would only accept/assimilate 'foreign' influence if their core adat were not imperilled, as the Padri War had so bloodily demonstrated for 30+ years .

They were (and still are) mightily intelligent and innovative people in coming up with a post Padri War syncretized saying, perhaps to appease the Islamists within their society, namely: Adat bersendi hukum Islam, Hukum Islam bersendi Al-Qur’an.

Now, being the bastard that I am, wakakaka, I am not only reading more into the above Minangkabau saying but also recalling that RPK wrote about a misogynistic Caliph who wrote most of the Hadith, which didn't and by default don't favour or treat women as equals.

So I wonder whether the clever Minangkabau by asserting that Hukum Islam bersendi Al-Qur’an were in fact saying that unless it's in the Al-Quran itself (and thus not just the Hadith) they won't accept any (Hadith) ruling that went against any of their adat.

And if indeed they had such an intention, to wit, to ignore any extra-Quranic ruling, then it must be within such an innovative syncretized doctrine that has allowed the Minangkabau matrilineal system of succession (and other forms of democracy) to exist within a religio-social Islamic environment, but which alas, came at a bloody price with a 30+ year war, one which saw most members of its royalty slaughtered treacherously by the fundamentalist Islamists during a ceasefire peace talk.

Anyway, I dare say not much has changed in the no-compromise or intolerant attitudes of the Muslim clerics since, especially those of the fundamentalist variety.

In today's Malaysian religio-politico-social environment I think it's up to the Muslim Malays to decide what they want: the status quo with its higher degree of socio-religious tolerance (and I am NOT talking about which political party forms the government) and preservations of Malay adats, which we have all benefited from in varying degrees during the last 50+ years, ...

... or a non-democratic system of totalitarian government by an elitist group of clerics whose only claim to their right to rule is NOT from universal suffrage but from a god who for some reason only talk to them (as claimed of course by them, wakakaka), and who probably want to Arabize everyone ... and perhaps fantasize for Malaysia to become a Saudi-like desert, complete with camels, dry winds and hot days-cold nights? Wakakaka.

But then, isn't one of Malay peribahasa 'biar mati anak, jangan mati adat', wakakaka.


  1. Malay parents from other states still don't take it kindly if their son voices the intention to marry a Negeri Sembilan Minangkabau girl.

    The matriachal line of property succession in Minangkabau society means the male side loses out when it comes to estate distribution.

    1. aiseh man, bridegroom dapat free food and accommodation with in-laws lah, and the young pengantin doesn't need to take his own inheritance over to his Minang babe, wakakaka

    2. Matriarchal societies are quite common among social animals in nature. Bees, Ants, even lion prides. The male lion may look magnificent , but its actually the females which control the pride.

      In the field of heredity, many genes, especially mitochondrial DNA, are only passed down through the female line.

      Only a woman can pass such genes to their offspring, and only her daughters can pass on the genes to their children, and so on.

      Scientists have found it a very useful tool for tracing genetic ancestry because of the straight line inheritence.

  2. The average Malay Muslim actually knows very little about Islam.

    So when someone or some group claims something is required by Islam, the others back off and these groups have unwarranted power and influence.

    There are plenty of Islamic charlattans around in Malaysia. These exist even in the State and Federal Islamic bureaucracies.

    1. many (tho' admittedly not all) clerics of all religions have since time immemorial been chong-ing the lay people, by exploiting the rakyat's fear of the supernatural (including god or gods)

  3. Bukit Gelugor update....
    Parti Cari Makan (PCM) Huan Cheng Guan obtained 3,583 votes....double the vote he got in Batu Kawan during GE13...he's definitely going places in future.....

    Ramkarpal may have won, but he is lacking a resounding mandate, since the turnout was so low at 53 percent.

    Many DAP supporters obviously did not bother to turn up to vote.
    Perhaps some kind of silent protest , playing mahjong instead ?

    1. the competition to Ramkarpal was so pissed poor that the voters took it easy lah. If MCA or Gerakan had stood in that by-election then it would have been a different story, but they didn't, wakakaka

    2. Ah Ba,
      Karpal garnered 89.5 % of the total votes cast.
      The other 3 lost deposits.
      Is he "lacking a resounding mandate" ?

    3. instead of giving the biggest mandate to the son of a great man, penangates rather play mahjong at home. not sure the problem lies with the son, the party, or the voters? perhaps all of them is okay, the trouble is with some dap fanboy that like to talk cock about others.

    4. HY, the problem was with the lack of opposition - maybe one day in the future a PKR candidate may compete against the DAP candidate there, wakakaka

      and how's your party polls coming along, wakakaka - maybe therein would be another Kajang Move, wakakaka

    5. Kaytee,
      Though I am not always in the same page with this fucker HY, it reflect your flawed analysis on issues especially the Kajang. Finally, what goes around comes around.
      I heard that Pahang MB would be replaced soon........Ah so Pelangai betrayal.......Hahahaha! I do hope that PAS can let go of Pelangai seat to DAP to contest if there were a by election. Come on, it would be great to have by election every month. Then the government would start fulfilling their promises

  4. I was close friends with a lovely NS Minangkabau girl at Uni in Australia. Real beauty, and - away from the restrictive environment in Malaysia, she was very open-minded as well.

    Alas I was unwilling to "Masuk Melayu" , and she made it clear she intended to return to Malaysia, so there was no future to the relationship...

  5. Kaytee,
    There are reasons why there is a limit on word counts in any newspaper editorials. Furthermore, sometimes you better take heed your own advice. Telling the readers what exactly messages you wanna relayed.
    I am not a royalist. I don't wanna royals especially RPK. Paul Keating had said so very clearly about deference and it does not do any justice to this young man so long you put so much emphasis on prefix royals

    Oh those cultural cringes, what aussie needs is more paul keatings.Seriously I am not sure about how democratic NS system is when you can only choose from one lineage as compared to perak where you have dewan negara though kinda rubber stamp deliberating the succession of all 3 positions between 3 royal families. And some of us knew where Azlan Shah really comes from.
    The last part that puzzles me would be.........Seriously what the heck hudud got to do witn minagkabau? Especially when this expose comes in mind

    1. re your "The last part that puzzles me would be.........Seriously what the heck hudud got to do witn minagkabau?" you've just confirmed you don't read my post but would comment on it, wakakaka

    2. Just as what Jim Hacker said.........Give a direct and concise assessment. Don't go around the mulberry bush. What the fuck Minangkabau got to do with Hudud? Rather how does it impact if the old tradition wins?

      Oh by the way, you are not helping DAP's cause. Furthermore, what's happening in Thailand demands better attention?

    3. looes, I long for the day when you can f**king start your own blog and write on what you want instead of telling me what to post, wakakaka, and I'll be the first to blogroll you, wakakaka again.

      In the meantime why don't you read my posts:

    4. The very recent one. That happened this week. That also means that you can't go to bangkok after all. Hahahaha!

  6. Do anybody got and clue what has happened to Rocky Bru and his gang of bloggers.They seemed to have vanished into thin air. Vaporised?

    1. Rocky's Nightmare10:31 am, May 27, 2014

      Rocky is with a group doing a biking land expedition from KL to Mekah.
      Most of the places they will be passing have no internet connection, anyway, I doubt blogging will be his priority. A lot of dangerous country in between....not sure if they will be safe.

  7. The Minangkabaus (Minang = Menag , Kabau = Kerbau) are a fiercely independent tribe, and the fought a long guerilla war against the Dutch back in the 19th Century.
    Don't ever call a Sumatran Minangkabau a "Malay". They may bash your nose in.

    Actually "Melayu" is just a minor tribe in Sumatra, and not a well regarded one....hahaha...

    Just cross the Melaka Straits , and you have all kinds of idiots chest thumping Melayu this, Melayu that, and the likes of Ridhuan Tee and Abdul Azeez Rahim (forebears each from China and India) daily emphasising their "Melayu"-ness.


    ....3 days later...

    OMG....first Dyana denies her mother was involved in Perkasa, then admits she is a member when it can no longer be fact there are (not doctored) photos on the Internet showing Dyana turned up with her mother to submit the Perkasa application.

    Dyana is starting to look really shifty....I don't think she is trustworthy.

    Don't get duped by Dyana-mania.

    Frankly I'm very leery of DAP's campaign to get more Malays into the Party.
    Many of the new people being recruited are unreliable and don't have any commitment to the party's core values. The disaster with Tunku Abdul Aziz is just a foretaste of what's coming.

    If DAP becomes a "taxi sapu" like the Other Party, it will erode and weaken the party's standing.

  9. Not all religion is bad.
    Our higher education system - universities etc. had their origins in religious orders. For a long time, they were the only people who understood the importance of higher learning for the long term development of society.
    Of course, initially, they were purely focused on religious studies, but eventually it diversified into the multitude of subject studies that we have today.

    The hospital system also had their origins in religious orders. They were the first to create permanent buildings and organisations to care for the sick and injured. It was only later that governments took up the responsibility.

    And I say this as an atheist who practices no religion.

  10. Democracy kaytee..........Hahahahaha!